My week on the Iona was a huge experience, not all of it good! As a complete sailing novice used to being a knowledgeable and helpful kind of person in normal life, it pained me to feel so inexpert and unable to be of much use when all hands were needed. However, by our third sail, across the Minch from Harris, I was becoming more relaxed and confident about it all. I may never sail again – like Lorraine, the hills remain my passion – but I have come away with a real appreciation of the skill and knowledge involved. And the memories that linger are of classic West coast views and the sense of being on the seas, including our eerie approach to Badachro in fog.
My other enduring memories are all about people. Skipper Graham is a remarkable man: not only an excellent teacher whose competence and calmness inspired confidence, but also from the start he had a fantastic easy going manner with us, his diverse and motley crew. Sharing the experience in such intimate quarters, we found common bonds – over food, politics, cards. And united by our love of Lorraine, we worked well as a team and found new friends. I really appreciated the quiet presence and encouraging words offered when I took the helm!
Our first afternoon on Skye became a catalogue of small calamities. While Lorraine, Caz and John were being buffeted on the tops and Caz’s cheekbone collided with Cuilin rock, the rest of us watched Paul and dingie drift across Portree harbour in the same storm force winds. Then, as we attempted to moor the Iona to the pontoon, her engine failed and Paul used his foot as a fender – ! – as we veered towards a moored fishing boat. The heroes of the day were the good folk of Portree, whose kindness at every turn brought solutions and good cheer – Donald from the Pier Hotel and his brother who got Paul and the dingie back to our mooring; the two barmaids and regulars in the bar that night who rallied to find us a bike to get Lorraine back from Sligachan; Gus’s taxi service who did the round trip that night and back the next morning for far less than the normal fare; the harbour master who let us move further up the pier; the fisherman who came back unasked at low tide to remove detritus from the jammed propeller; and the Chippy owner who let us use his water tap. Heartfelt thanks to all.
In Portree, I was struck by just how much people are moved by Lorraine’s story and willing to donate to cancer charities. There and elsewhere folk we’d met just came back and quietly handed over a note. We heard from the Sgitheanach of a local lad (Ali Kaye?) who had run nearly 5 marathons in length around Skye over 35 hours in April, raising £31,000 for cancer research. I guess everyone has been touched by cancer and can respect the effort required of Lorraine to meet her challenge. So this is something all her friends can do to support her: while she is slogging up the hills, each of us can be using our own networks to tell Lorraine’s story and raise money for Macmillan Cancer support on her behalf. Go to it!